Courtesy of Heather Evans Music
This is part of our weekly series titled “Columbus’ Own,” where we profile a local band every Thursday.
At 25 years old, singer-songwriter Heather Evans has already had her music featured on “Laguna Beach,” survived a life-threatening pregnancy and sung for President Barack Obama.
“I don’t even know how it all happened,” Evans said. “I’m just a little folk singer-songwriter. I feel like that’s my story. I’m like the underdog.”
Evans is preparing to release her latest project, an eight-song EP titled “Out of the Woods,” for which a launch party is scheduled to be held at Woodlands Tavern on its release date, Oct. 6. Evans’ previous project was a full-length album, called “For My Generation,” released in 2008.
Ten years ago, though, Evans was a teenager who learned to play guitar so she could upstage her older sister.
“My sister started first and I wanted to be better than her so I started playing out of competition,” Evans said. “She quit, but I really liked it and stuck with it, and thank goodness I did.”
For her 15th birthday, Evans’ dad bought her recording time at a studio so she could make an album for him to listen to in his car. The gift turned into an investment in Evans’ career.
“The people at the studio said, ‘Wow, your songs are really good for a 15-year-old,'” Evans said. “They asked me to keep recording there, so I cleaned the studio in exchange for recording time.”
Evans’ music soon earned national recognition when two of the songs from her first EP, “Impatient Heart,” were featured on the MTV reality show “Laguna Beach” as well as The N’s, which is now TeenNick, teen drama “South of Nowhere.” Two songs, “You and Me” and “Over You,” were featured on both shows, and a third, “The Driving Song,” was also featured on “South of Nowhere.”
“I was like, ‘What? I’m 15 and this is happening?’ I was so nervous, but after it aired a bunch of people bought my music, so it was a really big thing for me at the time and helped get my music out there,” she said.
Evans said she has since matured as a singer-songwriter.
“When I was 15 and writing, it was more me-focused,” she said. “But these days I feel like my focus has shifted to raising awareness and using my voice to help other people.”
Evans has recently been using her music to promote awareness of human trafficking, playing for organizations such as Gracehaven, a shelter in Logan County, about an hour from Columbus, for young female human trafficking victims.
“It makes it worthwhile when it’s not for your own fame and you do it for a purpose and actually help people out – to give (to) people who don’t have a voice,” Evans said.
Marco Castro, a close friend of Evans’ who is also a musician, said he admires Evans’ desire to use her music as a way to help others.
“She’s been doing this for 10 years and she still has a passion for the music,” Castro said. “She doesn’t just do it because it’s cool. She has a message to her music. Sometimes she doesn’t realize how powerful her message is.”
Born and raised in Hilliard, Ohio, Evans said she loves being a musician in Columbus and has played at “pretty much every venue in the city,” from large benefit concerts to small coffee shops. Some of those venues include Java Central, Woodlands Tavern, Skully’s Music-Diner, and The Shrunken Head.
“It’s nice to play in the Columbus scene because all the musicians help each other out,” Evans said. “There are some really awesome musicians and the community of music here is really fun.”
Within that community, Evans said she has found many friends to collaborate with.
Aimee Dursch, co-owner of a videography company called Root Beer Float Productions, made Evans’ first music video for her song “Out of the Woods.” Dursch said Evans’ excitement for her work is contagious.
“She’s just so excited about the creative process. She always gets that kind of childlike excitement about anything she does,” Dursch said. “Doing the album has been an awesome dream for her to combine all her friends and it brings so much joy. You can tell her mind is blown by what people can do together.”
One of the songs on Evans’ “Out of the Woods” EP, an acoustic track called “Trust,” is named after her 2-year-old son. Evans said it is a deeply personal song for her because it was written during her difficult pregnancy.
“I got crazy sick. I couldn’t get my head off my pillow,” Evans said. “I was just fighting for this life to live and you feel so helpless. The whole time, the whole theme was just to trust.
“I wrote this song when I was eight months pregnant and I was singing it to myself in the hospital room, trying to encourage myself with the lyrics, ‘Trials may come and go / But I know trust will carry us through / Trust will carry us through.'”
Even after Trust was born, Evans’ health was still at stake. She became very ill, going into congestive heart failure and required a blood transfusion.
“I felt like if I close my eyes, I’m not going to wake up,” Evans said. “And I had this newborn baby I had to take care of. His name, Trust, is about everything we went through. And today here I am, alive and able to tell the story.”
Evans took a break from making music until a year after Trust was born because of post-traumatic stress from her illness.
“It took a while for me to feel OK again,” Evans said. “But recording was a therapeutic thing for me. It was a safe environment where I could just pour my heart out, so this EP is really special because it helped me through that time. I found a newfound purpose in singing and playing again, so this new season is just full of joy and exciting things.”
One of the most exciting things to happen to Evans recently has been to perform for Obama. Evans said a friend saw her music video for “Out of the Woods” and asked her to sing the national anthem during Obama’s visit to Columbus Monday at Schiller Park.
“My world’s been shaken up a bit,” Evans said. “Who gets to say that – ‘I get to sing for the president?'”
Evans said the experience was “crazy.”
“I felt really cool because I got to sit in the VIP section so I could see everything,” she said. “I actually asked the audience to sing with me. I said, ‘Join me in singing the national anthem.’ I don’t actually know if I was supposed to do that-but it was great and everyone was singing along. It’s not about trying to be a diva, you know?”
Besides the upcoming release of her EP, Evans said she does not have any concrete plans for her career and wants to take advantage of any opportunities that come her way.
“Where I’m at, as an independent artist, I’m kind of riding the wave of whatever this journey takes me to,” Evans said. “Whatever happens, happens.”